Sunday, December 26, 2010

Message in a bottle

Talk about a slow postal system.

More than two years ago, Cally Rumbolt's father put a note in a bottle and set it adrift off the shores of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

This year, Sofi-Ona Hamer fished it out of the North Atlantic Ocean near Scotland.

Cally's dad is a fisherman, and in 2007 and 2008 he sent dozens of notes in bottles overboard in the hopes that someone would find them, and send a note to Cally. Cally lives in Pickering, Ont.

She didn't even know that he was doing it - until she received a couple of replies. Her latest is from Sofi-Ona, who noticed a bottle washed up on the shore as she was walking along a rocky beach in Scotland one rainy day recently.

She thought it was garbage and was going to put it in the recycling, when she realized there was a plastic bag inside it - and a note.

The note was faded and most of it was unreadable. She tried rubbing charcoal over the letters to see if she could get the note to become more readable. Finally, she was able to make out the words, "Pickering, Ontario, Canada" and the street, "Poprad Avenue" at the top of the page. She got in touch with The Toronto Star newspaper, and they helped her track down Cally's address.

Sofi-Ona couldn't read the note, but thanks to The Star, we know that this is what Cally's dad wrote in those letters he tossed over the side of the boat:
"My dad works on a supply vessel off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland... He is sending this note in a bottle in the hopes that someone will return a letter to me."

In addition to connecting with Sofi-Ona (who plans to write Cally now that she has her address), Cally received a letter from a 16-year-old girl in Ireland, who found a bottle while walking her dogs.

Writing/Discussion Prompt
If you wrote a message in a bottle what would it say? What types of things would you want to be certain to mention?

Curriculum Prompt
What types of things did you think about after you read the title of the article? As you read the article, did you need to change your understanding of what the article was about? After reading the article, would you say your first guess about the story was right or not so much? How can making guesses about what we read make us better readers?

Identify, initially with some support and direction, what strategies they found most helpful before, during, and after reading and how they can use these and other strategies to improve as readers (OME, Reading: 4.1).

Identify the strategies they found most helpful before, during, and after reading and explain, in conversation with the teacher and/or peers or in a reader’s notebook, how they can use these and other strategies to improve as readers (OME, Reading: 4.1).

Grammar Feature: Italics
At times, journalists will change the formatting of their text in an article. For example, in today’s story, our journalist switched her font to italics when she reported the message found on the notes. The reason journalists do this is to distinguish certain words from others.

FYI, italics is used in the same way as underlining. For that reason, a piece of work may contain italics or underlining, but not both).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Muggle version of Platform 9-3/4


Here’s a magical picture from the muggle world.

This picture was taken at the real-life King’s Cross station in London, England.

Harry Potter fans will recognize Platform 9-3/4 as the magical spot in the wall Hogwarts students must pass through to reach the Hogwarts Express train that takes them to school.

A cast-iron 9-3/4 sign has been put up on the wall between platforms 9 and 10. And a luggage trolley seems to be halfway in and halfway out of the wall, just as if someone were about to make the jump to the magical world from the muggle one.

There’s often a traffic jam at this spot in King’s Cross station, as tourists and Harry Potter fans stop to take pictures of this wonderful tribute to the series.

The latest Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I is playing in movie theatres now. Part II will be released this June.

Click here for the official movie website, including the trailer for Part I.

Image: Wikipedia, By SoxFan.

Writing/Discussion Prompt
If you were going to make a monument or a statue celebrating a book, which book would you choose? Which character would you have made into a statue? Is there a certain moment in the story you would want to have on display?
Curriculum Prompt
Does knowing about the Harry Potter series help a reader understand today’s article? How does thinking about what we know already help us when we read something new?
Identify a variety of reading comprehension strategies and use them appropriately before, during, and after reading to understand texts (e.g., activate prior knowledge through brainstorming and/or developing mind maps; ask questions to focus reading and clarify understanding; use visualization to clarify details about such things as homes and clothing of early settlers; use pictures to confirm understanding of printed text) (OME, Reading: 1.3)
Identify a variety of reading comprehension strategies and use them appropriately before, during, and after reading to understand texts (e.g., activate prior knowledge through asking questions about or discussing a topic; develop mind maps to explore ideas; ask questions to focus reading; use visualization to clarify details of a character, scene, or concept in a text; make predictions about a text based on reasoning and related reading; reread to confirm or clarify meaning) (OME, Reading: 1.3)
Grammar Feature: Hyphen
In today’s article, hyphens are used in two sentences. In both of these sentences the hyphen is used in the forming of compund words. When used this way, the hyphen tells the reader that there is a relationship between the words that make up the compound.
“This picture was taken at the real-life King’s Cross station in London, England.”
“A cast-iron 9-3/4 sign has been put up on the wall between platforms 9 and 10.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Oxford's Save the Words project


What would you do if someone called you a “snollygoster”? Would you feel flattered or insulted?

“Snollygoster” isn’t a word you hear every day. In fact, almost no one uses it anymore. And that's the problem, according to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary.

They’ve rounded up hundreds of words that are nearly extinct, and they’re asking people to “adopt” them. When you “adopt” a word you promise to try to get it back into popular usage. You pledge that you'll use it as often as possible when you’re talking to people, write it in letters and schoolwork and tell people what your adopted word means.

For instance, if you were to adopt snollygoster, you’d have to let people know that it means, “a smart, but dishonest person.” And one way to use it might be to describe a corrupt politician. You might say, "Boy, that Richard Nixon sure was one wicked snollygoster!"

At Oxford’s Save the Words website, you can see what looks like a quilt of words. As you move your mouse over the words, they call out to you: “Pick me! Pick me!” encouraging you to adopt them. When you find a word that’s interesting to you, you can click on it to get its definition. And if you like it, you can adopt it, pledging to use the word as often as possible.

Save the Words is a fun project, designed by Oxford to get more people talking about language and, presumably, buying more Oxford English Dictionaries. It’s meant to be a fun, and not very serious, website that we can all learn from. And there's no doubt--it will certainly gumfiate* your vocabulary!

*cause to swell.

Writing/Discussion Prompt: Words
Sometimes the meanings of words change. For example “cool” can mean chilly or trendy, and “wicked” can mean evil or fantastic. Can you think of any other words that have two meanings?

Curriculum Prompt
Using a dictionary is a very important skill. We need dictionaries to help us spell and to explain the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Identify any unfamiliar or challenging words in this article (for instance: corrupt, pledge, presumably) and look up their meaning in a dictionary.

Confirm spellings and word meanings or word choice using several different types of resources (OME, Writing: 3.3).

When we write we work to figure out which words best explain our ideas. When we get stuck thinking of a suitable word, we can use a thesaurus. A thesaurus helps us to find alternative word choices.

Underline five adjectives in the article and then use a thesaurus to find other words which would also be appropriate.

Confirm spellings and word meanings or word choice using a variety of resources appropriate for the purpose (OME, Writing: 3.3).

Grammar Feature: Contractions
There are contractions throughout the article. Contractions are two words that are put together with an apostrophe. Identify all of the contractions in the article and explain which two words were put together to make the contractions.

Although the word “Oxford’s” has an apostrophe in it, it is not a contraction. What is it?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ireland facing bankruptcy


Ireland is a proud, independent nation. Historically, it suffered a long and painful struggle for independence from Britain.

This week, however, Ireland’s government had to admit that it’s going broke. Its banks are close to bankruptcy, nearly 200,000 homeowners may lose their homes and more than 13 per cent of its population is unemployed.

The country will have to borrow money—from Britain and other lenders—to stay afloat.

A team of 12 officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) arrived in Dublin, Ireland last week. They went over the country’s finances to figure out how to get it out of debt.

They decided that many of the countries in Europe would lend Ireland money, to the tune of $110-billion. Ireland will use that money to boost its businesses and kick-start its economy again.

In the meantime, however, having to go cap-in-hand to other countries is something many Irish people will consider shameful. The Irish Prime Minister denies that there is anything to be embarrassed about, but the proud Irish people, who would prefer to stand on their own two feet, feel differently.

In an editorial last week, the newspaper The Irish Times said that after having obtained independence from Britain, “we have now surrendered our sovereignty” to European lenders and the IMF.

This crisis may spell the end for the Irish Prime Minister, who faces an election on Nov. 25.

Source: Based on an article by Doug Saunders, The Globe and Mail.

Writing/Discussion Prompt: Metaphors
This article has tons of them: “stay afloat,” “kick-start its economy,” “cap-in-hand, “ “to the tune of $110-billion,” “stand on their own two feet,” “spell the end,” etc. Why are metaphors used by writers? What impact does a metaphor have on its reader?

Curriculum Prompt
Retelling, or summarizing, is a really difficult skill. Here’s an effective way to summarize a news article. Using a highlighter, highlight the five most important facts in the article (make sure that your facts are chosen from the beginning, middle, and end). Next, rewrite the facts you’ve highlighted in your own words.

Demonstrate understanding of a variety of texts by summarizing important ideas and citing supporting details (OME, Reading: 1.4)

Grammar Feature: “However”
Sentences with the word “however” in the middle must be preceeded and followed by a comma.

“This week, however, Ireland’s government had to admit that it’s going broke.”

“In the meantime, however, having to go cap-in-hand to other countries is something many Irish people will consider shameful.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Royal Wedding


He’s second in line to the British throne. She works for a children’s party-supplies store. They recently got engaged, and it’s likely that one day he will be King of England and she will be his Queen.

Prince William proposed to “commoner” Catherine Middleton last month when the two were on holiday in Africa. All of Britain is riveted by the attractive, likeable couple.

She’s particularly popular because she isn’t descended from royalty. Her parents are a former flight attendant and a dispatcher, and they now run a mail-order party-supplies business called Party Pieces. She has two younger siblings, Pippa and James.

Diana and Charles pull away from the
cathedral in a horse-drawn carriage
on their wedding day, nearly 30 years ago.
William, of course, has a younger brother, Harry—third in line for the throne. And a famous father, Charles, who is first in line to be King of England should Queen Elizabeth step down.

The couple plans to get married next Spring or Summer. And it won’t be a small affair. The British public will demand a lavish wedding in a huge cathedral with thousands of invited guests and—if past royal weddings are anything to go by—horse-drawn carriages. People in Britain are also hoping the day will be declared a holiday so everyone can have the day off work (or school).

King William and Queen Catherine. It has a nice ring to it. And speaking of rings, Catherine Middleton is now wearing one of the most famous rings in the world—the 18-carat sapphire-and-diamond ring that belonged to William’s late mother, Princess Diana.

Update: They've set a date! William and Catherine will marry on April 29, 2011, at Westminster Abbey.

Writing/Discussion Prompt
People have been following William's and Catherine’s relationship for many years. They are regularly on the cover of magazines and newspapers and on TV. Do you think it is fair that William’s and Catherine’s lives are available for everyone to see?

People are very interested in not only William’s and Catherine’s lives; they are also fascinated by all celebrities. Why do think we're so interested in celebrities?

Curriculum Prompt
Excellent writing has a strong "voice." Voice is the way someone expresses their personality in their writing. The voice may change if someone is using very simple words or very long, complicated words. A writer can also add expression and voice to their writing through the use of exclamation marks or question marks.

Take a highlighter and highlight the parts of the article where you can “hear” the author’s voice. Are there parts of the article where we can find out what the author is thinking?

identify some elements of style, including voice, word choice, and different types of sentences, and explain how they help readers understand texts (OME, Reading: 2.4)

analyze texts and explain how various elements in them contribute to meaning (OME, Reading: 1.7)

Grammar Feature: Adjectives
Adjectives are words that describe a noun (person, place or thing). Identify all the adjectives in the article. As a whole class or in small groups, discuss why adjectives are an important part of writing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Run someone's life through Control TV

A new Internet TV show lets viewers run someone’s life.

Cameras are pointed at 25-year-old Tristan Couvares, following his every move. Viewers can watch what he does, for 18 hours a day, on the Internet.

The twist is, they can also be able to vote on what he should do next.

The Web show is called “Control TV” and it’s a lot like a movie called The Truman Show, which starred actor Jim Carrey. There are also some “reality TV” shows, like Big Brother, that follow real people through their days. However, this show will be different because it lets viewers make decisions for the person.

The producers say the show is designed to help Couvares make some decisions in his life. The producers make sure the suggestions from viewers are helpful, and not hurtful, to Couvares.

The decisions could be as simple as getting Couvares to eat oatmeal rather than an English muffin for breakfast, or to wear funny clothes when he goes for a job interview.

Viewers can follow the show at Control TV and sign up for cellphone alerts, which lets them decide things for Couvares about 10 to 15 times a day. Voting is for multiple options: A, B or C.

Writing/Discussion Prompt

Reality TV has always been very popular. Game shows, which date back to 1938, were the first examples of reality TV. Today, televisions have lots of reality shows, including like Survivor and Big Brother. Why do you think people like watching reality TV so much? Would you ever go on a reality TV show? Why or why not?

Curriculum Prompt
As you read this article, did you have “flow” in your reading? Were you able to raise and lower your voice as you read in order to highlight and emphasize interesting portions?

Read appropriate texts at a sufficient rate and with sufficient expression to convey the sense of the text readily to the reader and an audience (OME, Reading: 3.3).

Read appropriate texts with expression and confidence, adjusting reading strategies and reading rate to match the form and purpose (OME, Reading: 3.3).

Grammar Feature: One sentence paragraph.
Today’s article includes 2 one-sentence paragraphs. When is it okay to use one sentence paragraphs and what is their purpose? The following excerpt from Article Base explains:

“Unlike paragraphs with multiple sentences, a one-sentence paragraph places heavy emphasis on the idea. It is a high-impact tool for telling the reader, "This is very important." Very few ideas require this level of emphasis. Used sparingly, one-sentence paragraphs can be very effective for pointing out critical ideas or keeping the reader mentally focused on the content.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New discovery about asthma

Everyone knows that you taste with your mouth.

Recently, scientists found out something really surprising. We can also taste bitter tastes with our lungs and airways.

These muscles relax when we taste something bitter.

That’s the opposite of what scientists thought would happen. They thought the muscles would tense up, to “warn us” that the bitter taste was poisonous.

However, when they fed some non-toxic bitter foods to mice and some humans, their airways relaxed and opened wide. Wider, in fact, than any medicine can make them open up.

This is an important discovery for people with asthma. People with asthma have trouble breathing because their airways become tight and narrow. Asthma medicine makes those airways relax and open up.

It won’t be enough for people with asthma to simply drink or eat something bitter, however. In order to get a large enough dose, those compounds would need to be inhaled.

So researchers have a lot more work to do on this discovery, to turn it into medicine for people with asthma. However, it’s a good start towards a stronger, more effective medicine.

Curriculum Connection
Do you know anyone who has asthma? Do you know of any non-medicinal remedies that work?

Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge and experience, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

However. However is a word that is almost either preceeded or followed by a comma. This is because “however” is a word that interupts a sentence. Today's article has two examples of this:

“It won’t be enough for people with asthma to simply drink or eat something bitter, however.”

“However, it’s a good start towards a stronger, more effective medicine.”

When eating bitter foods, our airways widen. This is different from what scientists expected. Pretend you are a scientist. Can you think of any reason why someone’s airways would widen when eating these types of foods? If bitter foods don’t make our airways shrink, which types of foods do you think would?